Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — Week 14


Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

LOOK: Duke to wear commemorative helmets to honor 1942 Rose Bowl

Duke University
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Duke, despite not ever being a member of the Big Ten or Pac-12, has a very unique connection to the Granddaddy of The All, and the football program is set to recognize said connection.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States government prohibited large gatherings of people on the West Coast.  As the school wrote in a release, “on January 1, 1942, the Rose Bowl was played for the only time outside of Pasadena, Calif., after Blue Devil head coach Wallace Wade offered Duke Stadium as the host venue. Oregon State defeated Duke in the contest, 20-16, in front of 56,000 spectators.”

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of hosting the Rose Bowl, Duke will wear commemorative helmets in its game against Virginia Tech on November 5 at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium.

From the release:

The distinctive Battleship Grey matte helmet will be complemented with a black facemask and a decal replicating a logo used by the 88th Infantry Division of the United States Army that held the nickname “Blue Devils” during World War II. In addition, Duke’s standard black jersey will don an official Rose Bowl 75th Anniversary commemorative patch and, underneath the uniform, the Blue Devils will wear gray Nike Pro three-quarter sleeves and tights.


Restraining order could keep two Gopher players from Week 8 game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 31: The Minnesota Golden Gophers warm up before the game against the Michigan Wolverines of the game on October 31, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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You have heard myriad reasons for college football players to miss games, but this one might be a first.

In mid-September, four Minnesota football players — cornerbacks KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford, safety Dior Johnson and defensive end Tamarion Johnson — were suspended in the midst of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault earlier in the month.  Citing insufficient evidence in the case, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced in early October that no charges would be filed and the players were reinstated.

However, Tamarion Johnson and another player who wasn’t suspended, sophomore running back Carlton Djam, had a temporary restraining order filed against them by the alleged victim. Because the woman who received the order is a student who works at TCF Bank Stadium on football game days, Johnson and Djam would not be permitted to be in the stadium for Saturday’s game against Rutgers.

The attorney for the two players, former Gopher football player Lee Hutton, told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press that he is seeking to have the order modified so that his clients can attend the homecoming game Saturday. “I’m aggressively advocating on behalf of my clients to contest the restraining order,” the attorney said.

“It would not be appropriate for the University to comment on this matter to the extent it relates to University students,” a statement from the school on the restraining order said. “The University reaffirms, however, that it will honor and comply with court orders.”

Djam has run for 33 yards on nine carries this season. A freshman, Johnson was a likely candidate for a redshirt.

Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel back from injury a lot sooner than expected

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 17:  Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after making a tackle in the second quarter against the Georgia State Panthers at Camp Randall Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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That was significantly quicker than anyone really expected.

Very late last month, Wisconsin confirmed that starting linebacker Vince Biegel would be sidelined “for several weeks” because of an injured foot that required surgery to insert a screw.  It was thought at the time that, at minimum, Biegel would miss games against Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska.

After missing the first two and with a bye week thrown in as well, the senior is set to return for the Badgers this weekend against the Hawkeyes on the road.

Prior to the foot injury, Biegel had started 29 games in a row for the Badgers.

‘Canes down three defensive starters for Thursday night game vs. Hokies

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 17: Brenden Motley #9 of the Virginia Tech Hokies escapes a tackle from Chad Thomas #9 of the Miami Hurricanes during a game  at Sun Life Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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When Miami takes the field Thursday night against Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes will do so with a significantly depleted defense.

On The U’s official injury report, starting defensive end Chad Thomas is listed as questionable with an upper extremity injury.  However, both Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald and Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post are reporting that Thomas did not travel to Blacksburg with the team and will not play in the prime-time game against the Hokies.

Thomas suffered the injury in last Saturday’s loss to North Carolina.

Additionally, fellow starting end Demetrius Jackson and starting cornerback Sheldrick Redwine have been ruled out as well.  Jackson is nursing an injured knee, while Redwine was not listed on The U’s injury report and the reason for his absence — he didn’t make the trip, either — is unknown.

Thomas, who has started all six games this season, currently leads the ‘Canes in tackles for loss with eight, while Jackson is tied for second with 5.5.  Jackson has started five of the six games.

Redwine has started the last five games for the Hurricanes, the first starts of his collegiate career.